Has your child been complaining of what seem to be some curious symptoms lately? Children experiencing a rare neurological phenomenon called Alice in Wonderland Syndrome perceive their body and surroundings to be drastically out of proportion to reality. This can create anxiety for children, and worry for parents as both wonder what has gone wrong. If your child is going through this experience, know that for most patients the symptoms are temporary and benign. Here is some information about this strange disorder--and what to do if your child has it.
Alice in Wonderland Syndrome (AIWS) was first identified in the 1950s by Dr. John Todd through his work with migraine sufferers; in fact, the disorder is also called Todd syndrome. For unknown reasons, AIWS usually affects children, although adult cases do exist. The experience often occurs at night, around sleep onset, although it can occur during the day. It involves two primary sensations:
Change in perception of body size
Change in perception of surroundings (both size and distance).
Children report that their heads or hands are gigantic, or that objects in their rooms have grown to enormous sizes. Nearby objects may appear very far away or microscopically small. Further, some children report disturbances in how they are experiencing time (it seems to pass slowly or quickly), touch (hard surfaces feel spongy, for example) and/or sound (voices sound far away or "tinny"). The sensations are transient, lasting anywhere from a few seconds to 20 minutes, and go away without intervention. Multiple occurrences can happen in one day.
Although Alice in Wonderland Syndrome often occurs for no apparent reason, there are several medical conditions with which it is sometimes associated:
Migraine headaches. AIWS may occur at the onset of a migraine, similar to the "aura" that precedes classic migraines. However, it is thought that AIWS is in itself a migraine, even though the patient does not experience headache pain. Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice in Wonderland, suffered from migraines, and it is thought he drew from his experiences in writing the book.
Epstein-Barr virus. Better known as mononucleosis or the "kissing disease," this virus is often associated with AIWS.
Epilepsy. Temporal lobe epilepsy, a brain disorder that involves alteration in sensory perception, can cause AIWS.
There is no one identified treatment for AIWS, and it has no cure. Many children seem to simply grow out of it. Suggested treatment options are linked to causal factors. For instance, if your child suffers from migraines, treatment will include taking medication and making dietary changes.
The most important thing you can do if your child reports symptoms of AIWS is to consult a physician. Because of its association with serious medical conditions, your child's pediatrician will run tests to determine why AIWS is occurring and formulate an appropriate treatment plan. Beyond that, when your child has an AIWS episode, remain calm, stay close, and reassure him/her that the sensations are not real and will go away in a few minutes.
Alice in Wonderland Syndrome is a puzzling condition that merits further research. Seek appropriate medical care either via psychiatry, counseling, or doctors. Reassure your child, and be encouraged that, most likely, it will go away in time.
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